Housing recessions excite Andres Duany, a founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism. "I love recessions because new urbanism does better in recessions," says the principal of the design firm Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. "A lot of new urbanism is built, but it doesn't necessarily sell better than the competition [in a booming home market] because everything sells anyway."
"Everywhere else you look, from the iPhone to running shoes to cars, the great designs prevail and the bad designs die," Duany says. "Americans can tell the difference between good design and bad."
And they have a way of becoming emotionally attached to great design in a way that can–assuming they can get a mortgage–drive them to buy, despite the uncertainties in the market
As sales deteriorated at communities nationwide this summer, Big Builder went out looking for neighborhoods where place-making and good design were helping them sell better than the competition in the downturn. And while there are probably dozens of these communities defying gravitational market trends all over the country, we chose to focus on three where buyers are getting more than shelter from their buy: places where their neighborhood and home satisfy other needs as well–senses of community, connectedness, identity, and delight.
Incidentally, these three communities all have new urbanist roots. Two also share another thing in common–founders who live in their communities and who designed them as places where they want to live. The third, too, has the influence of a strong founder behind it.
Duany doesn't think that's a coincidence. "When the developer is a real person who lives there, the place becomes real, not corporate," he says. "There's a real flesh-and-blood town founder with ideas and personality."
It may be that when the developer or builder plans to dwell in a community he's building, he thinks about more than making the parcel pencil; he manages to lock onto how to make it appeal on a primal level as well.
After all, shelter is one of humankind's most basic needs. It would make sense that where we choose to live, like who we choose for our mates, may in the end be determined by some synapses in a primitive part of the brain that signal, "This place is right for me."
Describing what the real appeal of a place is to us can be elusive. Just ask Brad Reed, one of the pioneer buyers in Whittaker Homes' The New Town at St. Charles, Mo., why he was willing to buy a lot when the development just looked like a bunch of dirt with a ditch and two holes in the ground.
"It's just a real cool place," he says, shrugging his shoulders.